The upwardly mobile CIO


Back in 2011 we discussed the challenges to progression of CIOs and changes they could make to move up to CEO level. After reading a great article in Information Age magazine on Richard Lloyd-Williams (CTO at Net-A-Porter) we thought it would a good time to revisit the subject.

The essence of the article is that the successful implementation of the right technology is integral to Net-A-Porter’s success “if the website is down we have no money” says Lloyd-Williams. The CIO and IT push innovation, keep the engine running and the transactions flowing. Richard’s predecessor went on to become CEO of so we can watch and see how they progress.

Net-A-Porter is a classic internet company – a great idea (selling high end fashion clothing) utilising slick branding and innovative technology. So can the same approach be used by other ‘non tech’ organisations? We think the answer is a yes but it requires certain changes in behaviour and outlook by the CIO and IT teams generally.

Business Orientated viewpoint

This is obvious and most CIOs have a deep understanding of the business they work within. The additional piece that needs to be added is getting into the mindset of the CEO or Sales Director to understand and fully comprehend their viewpoint and drivers. This is a difficult challenge, to move away from the value add, cost focused, efficiency mode to true strategic thinking about the direction of the company and the path to achieve that success. A way to do this is for the CIO to be included and an active part of strategic planning and ALSO the execution of this which will involve extensive time alongside the CEO and senior team. A seat on the board of the organisation is a good starting point for this to begin.

Integration of IT into the business

Again we have seen this add so much value to a firm. It may not be the most obviously cost effective mechanism as local, expensive, business savvy people generally command a premium but the speed and quality of the solutions can easily outweigh the obvious costs. There has been a trend to move IT and specifically development away from the business to lower cost ‘factories’ of production. This may achieve headline cost savings but we question the overall benefit to the business. What needs to be catered for is ensuring a degree of standardisation (in architecture, documentation and supportability amongst other things) in the solutions delivered to avoid overlap, gaps and ‘instant legacy’ systems that cannot be sustained long term. Net-A-Porter manages this by having a common service orientated architecture that the business units plug in to.

Small, nimble teams

This is really part of integrating IT into the business. Small teams that can work with the business, and get a deep understanding of what the business want and can deliver on that vision quickly and completely. This agile approach and it really does work and also should be flexible enough to cope with the inevitable changes of direction as the business and market changes. Less than double figures is a good size for a team that can work closely together, have great communication whilst having the breadth to have expertise in the areas required to deliver successfully.

Empowerment & devolved responsibility

Providing support and direction to your teams whilst giving them enough scope to make decisions and backing them up where needed is a difficult but necessary attribute. As most CIOs have come from an IT background there is a certain level of ‘baggage’. This is usually a very positive aspect as it is required to help make intelligent, experienced based decisions but can be something of a double edged sword as diving into the detail of an issue can be too easy. Trusting, supporting and letting the team make their own decisions empowers and motivates your resources as they feel accountable for the successful outcome.

Continuous, iterative delivery

Large projects with big steps of delivery are sometimes necessary. Most of the time, though, a big project can be broken down into smaller parts with discernible business benefits drives momentum and keeps the team – both business and IT motivated. The ‘every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’ statement rings true in IT as it does for life.


I started this blog with the aim of showing how successful CIO’s can step up to the next level with the right skills and mindset. This has morphed into our thinking in regard to a good model to deliver IT projects. The points above are truisms, but ones that we’ve seen make teams and individuals successful time and time again.

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Posted on : 27-02-2014 | By : richard.gale | In : Innovation

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